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News Roundup: Vermont Reports 66 New COVID-19 Cases, 2 Deaths

Signs in front of a grocery store's glass windows warn shoppers about wearing masks.
Abagael Giles
At Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, a television screen tells shoppers waiting outside when they can enter the store.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus and more for Thursday, Feb 25.Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 15 minutes with The Frequency every weekday morning. How about an email newsletter? Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.

The latest coronavirus data:


1. Vermont reports 66 new COVID-19 cases, 2 new deaths

Vermont saw two new COVID-related deaths Thursday as health officials reported 66 new coronavirus infections.

The state now counts 203 deaths since the pandemic began, 21 of which happened in February.

Hospitalizations dipped to 28 people, including 11 in the ICU.

Just shy of 95,000 Vermonters have gotten at least one vaccine dose to date, including more than 70% of Vermonters aged 75 and older.

- Matthew Smith

Walgreens opens vaccination appointments for Vermonters 65 and over

Vermonters 65 and older were able to sign up today for COVID-19 vaccines administered by Walgreens pharmacies.

The state Health Department will allow people in that age band to register for their shots beginning on Monday.

But Walgreens got an early start because it received an unanticipated allocation of 4,300 more doses for Vermonters directly from the federal Centers for Disease Control.

However, earlier Thursday, the Walgreens web site was not allowing registrations for those 65 and older. Walgreens said it was experiencing temporary outages but the problem was resolved by early afternoon.

- John Dillon

Dartmouth College sees spike in COVID-19 cases

Dartmouth College is dealing with a spike in COVID-19 cases on campus.

An email to the college community on Wednesday notes the college is dealing with 22 cases and monitoring 80 students both in quarantine and isolation.

The Valley News reports a college spokesperson noted in an email that cases include at least two clusters of students: one cluster of three identified Tuesday, and another of four students on Wednesday.

Campus dining halls shifted to "grab-and-go" meals at least until Sunday to cope with the outbreak.

- Matthew Smith

2. Stratton town clerk apologizes for message on cover of town report

The tiny Windham County resort town of Stratton has a message on the cover of its annual town report.  It says in part quote “We are not racist, we simply like here the way it is.”

The cover has offended people inside and outside of town.

The message, which also invites people to leave if they want the town to be like where they came from, was Stratton town clerk Kent Young’s idea. And he says it was supposed to be funny.

“We all came up here from somewhere else because we like the way Vermont is. It wasn’t meant to be directed specifically to anybody, or to offend anybody,” Young said. “I guess if people were offended, they didn’t quite read it the right way, or at least not the way I had read it.”

Still, Young has now apologized and says the message was a mistake.

A recent report by Vermont’s Executive Director of Racial Equity found that xenophobia and Vermont nativism create fear among some Vermont residents.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

3. Vermont Senate considers bill that would prohibit expulsions of students 8 or younger

The Vermont Senate is considering a bill that would prohibit schools from suspending or expelling their youngest students.

Chittenden County Senator Kesha Ram says she’s seen instances where elementary students were suspended for alleged infractions at school.

“You know, really traumatic experiences where a child had an accident or did something on the playground and were suspended or expelled, and a lot of parents of color were coming to me and saying, ‘I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know if I can live in this state anymore,’” Ram said.

Ram has introduced legislation that would ban schools from suspending or expelling students 8-years-old and younger.

The legislation is part of a broader push to reform school discipline practices in Vermont.

- Peter Hirschfeld

4. Vermont lawmakers to work remotely through May

Vermont lawmakers will continue to work remotely through the rest of the legislative session.

The House on Wednesday passed a resolution that extends the remote session through May 15.

Northfield Republican Anne Donahue says it's still unsafe to gather at the Statehouse in Montpelier while the COVID pandemic continues.

“We all hoped in December and in January that at least it might be possible that we could return in March or April. And I think we can stay hopeful; things are certainly looking more optimistic,” Donahue said. “But I think at this point, we recognize that it would be unrealistic to think that we could safely return.”

The Senate has also decided to work remotely for the next few months.

The Statehouse has been closed to the public since last March, when Gov. Phil Scott imposed a state of emergency.

- John Dillon

5. Program to pay farmers for ecosystem services could be running by summer 2022

The Agency of Agriculture is working with farmers on ways they could get paid to improve the environment.

The concept is called payment for ecosystems services. A state working group is looking at how to make the idea a reality.

Ryan Patch is deputy director of water quality at the Agriculture Agency. He told the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday that a program could be running by the summer of 2022.

“Farmer groups and others in the working group see this is a critical need, to really rethink how farms are compensated for the work they do,” Patch said. “Paying for meat, milk and fiber is definitely one way, but there are other services that are provided.”

Patch said innovative practices such as cover cropping reduce phosphorus pollution and also can lead to more carbon storage in the soil. He says that's a good fit with the state's carbon reduction goals.

The Senate Agriculture Committee wants to spend $250,000 to continue work on the ecosystem services program.

- John Dillon

6. Scott Administration asks lawmakers to shelve bill that would make all school meals free

The Scott administration is asking lawmakers to shelve a bill that would make school meals free of charge to every student in Vermont.

Ted Fisher, with the Agency of Education, says the administration supports the goal of the legislation.

But he says many districts can’t afford the cost of a universal free-meal program.

“We’re concerned about that because it … will make conversations that are often uncomfortable in terms of local education spending … more difficult,” Fisher said.

Fisher said the free meal proposal could cost upwards of $50 million a year.

Senate lawmakers say they plan to advance the legislation in spite of the administration’s opposition.

- Peter Hirschfeld

7. Portrait of famed legislator Alexander Twilight will soon hang in the Statehouse

A portrait of famed Vermonter Alexander Twilight will soon hang in the Statehouse. It will be the first portrait of a person of color to hang in the building. The Corinth native is believed to be the first African American college graduate.

Middlebury artist Katie Runde was chosen from a group of 18 people to paint on the portrait.

Runde says she's in the process of doing research before she starts work.

"Every detail I find fleshing out his character gives me a better sense of how to frame him in the portrait and aspects that I need to make sure come forward,” Runde said. “Like, you know, he was a minister. So how do we depict spiritual depth in a portrait?"

Runde says she expects the piece to be finished by next year.

Read or listen to the full conversation.

- Henry Epp

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